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Sam Miguel

  1. Yes Internet, He Is The Best

    We could go on and on about the numbers posted by Lebron James in the recently concluded NBA Finals. Even the haters (God I hate that word... Does that make me one too?) have to concede that the man just flat out did every damn thing in these Finals.

    In the end it wasn't enough. Golden State rode the bullet train of destiny and won their second title in 40 years, fourth as a franchise overall. They did it primarily behind the brilliance of Steve Kerr, a man who always had a coaching career in his cards. He became the second man after Pat Riley to win an NBA championship in his first year as a head coach. He did it by selling a system that seemed too gimmicky, all of that constant movement and passing and outside shooting and running and gunning. "We had to get guys these guys to buy into the system, because they had gotten so used to the previous system," Kerr said in one interview.

    It felt too much like the Nash-D'Antoni Suns all over again, and we all know that did not go very far either. Yet this time around it worked. Steph Curry became the league MVP and showed the wholw world you don't necessarily have to be the prototypical stud athlete tearing down the rim every time to win the world championship. "We just had to stick to the plan, stick to the way we play, and it worked," said Curry in one post-title media session.

    It is a well-deserved, hard-worked-for title. In the midst of all that championship joy, after the outcome had all but been decided save for a couple of freethrows, in the dying seconds of Game 6 on the Cleveland homecourt, we now look to the other side.

    James had shaken hands and hugged the Warriors, Coach Kerr, and the other staff there. There was no need to ask how he felt at that moment.

    James is one of those sports figures in the Internet age that just seems to polarize everybody. You either love him or you hate him. Or you report on him. It is hard to believe he is in his 12th NBA season, that he is already 30 years of age. He just still seems so... Good. Heck, he is, as he stated, the best player in the world.

    Let's go back to that statement for a while.

    He said it after Game 5, when the Warriors had once again held tough to preserve the win and come within another win of the championship.

    The Internet went nuts with that one.

    Walk the walk.

    Money where your mouth is.

    Championships are won with play, not with words.

    Make baskets, not excuses.

    As the Internet continued on and on taking James apart for that statement, coming as it did off a very important loss, and with his fourth Finals failure looming, it suddenly came to me.

    To hell with the Internet.

    If you really, actually, objectively think about it, James really is the best damn basketball player alive today.

    Think about it. The man is 6-foot-8, 6-foot-9, 260, maybe 270 pounds. He is a freak athlete who runs like a freight train, can jump out of the gym, and plays with a superior skill level, especially at his size. He's essentially a power forward with guard skills. He fills up entire stat sheets. When his two All Star teammates went down with injuries in this postseason, he quite literally carried these Cavaliers by himself. All the way to the Finals mind you.

    Even the blasted bookies thought that this series would be a foregone conclusion. Joe told me P1,000 on the Warriors would only win P300. While P1,000 on the Cavaliers would win P1,800. For guys who make a living making sure they always win, that was a heck of a long set of odds to trot out.

    Yet somehow the Cavaliers were able to stretch this to a six-game series, even after star pointguard Kyrie Irving went out for for good in the midst of Game 1. Again, forget the actual numbers. Who the heck do you think even gave Cleveland a chance in these Finals? With some 20-something seconds left in Game 6 it was only 101-97. That was how close this all was. You think it was that close because of Tristan Thompson or Matt Dellavedova?

    Then I go back to how much the Internet savaged him for that "best player in the world" statement.

    What more could he do?

    You wanted him to score more? Like what, maybe he should've scored a minimum of 60 every game?

    You wanted him to rebound and defend more?

    You wanted him to pass more? Involve his teammate more?

    For cryin' out loud, did you see his numbers in these Finals?

    He failed to inspire his teammates.

    Seriously?

    How much do you think even the best of inspiration can do for a guy shooting 28% from the field? You think inspiration will suddenly make you a better shooter? Or take you out of a slump?

    Inspire his teammate for f---'s ...
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  2. Lakers Have Decisions To Make

    Mitch Kupchak had the misfortune of following in the footsteps of legendary Lakers GM Jerry West. With the Living Logo essentially building the modern Lakers Dynasty a few years ago, Kupchak had some huge shoes to fill when he came in. It didn't help that many things beyond his control made a mess of Kupchak's bigger decisions. Steven Nash got hit by injuries almost as soon as he came aboard. Dwight Howard didn't quite pan out and left after only one season. Kobe Bryant simply got old and run-down.

    This season however, Kupchak might have just the right opportunity to return to the upper tier of NBA font office executives.

    With the draft order now final, the Lakers have the Number 2 overall pick. That gives them the chance to land a true franchise player. That could be Karl Towns, or newly-crowned NCAA champion Jahlil Okafor, both highly-rated big men who will undoubtedly have stellar NBA careers wherever they go. They might also take the new road and draft a super athletic guard, with Emmanuel Mudiay and Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell.

    In the free agent market, they have enough big money to offer Marc Gasol, the Memphis all star center who is without a doubt the best among the crop of unrestricted free agents. Los Angeles might also make a play for Jimmy Butler and/or Deandre Jordan.

    Any (or a combination) of those guys could immediately return the Lakers back into being at least a sure playoff team. They will arrive on a Lakers team that has Rookie First Team selection Jordan Clarkson, and a bunch of very good role players like Ryan Kelly, Robert Sacre, and Wes Johnson. There are also the two tested veterans in Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin.

    And returning to the draft, LA also has the Number 27 and the Number 34 overall picks. Given how well Kupchak got value in the second round with Clarkson, and even Sacre, it seems this organization does indeed do a lot of good scouting. Probability is not normally on the side of second-rounders. That Kupchak and his scouts took in good players outside the first round should be lauded.

    Let's take things one at a time.

    Who should LA get at Number 2?

    This seems like a no-brainer: whoever is still around between Towns and Okafor should be it. Both are in the 6-foot-11 to 7-foot range, well-built, strong, agile. Towns is a better athlete, and developed into a legit two-way threat for Kentucky. Okafor is arguably the most polished big man to come out of college in probably the last decade or so, and he assumed the role of superstar on a champinship team with relative ease.

    Up to the time the last college season started, Okafor looked like the consensus Number 1 pick, until Towns started showing his game more and more. Towns however had two other solid big men with him - Willy Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson. Cauley-Stein and Johnson are also in the 7-foot range. The knock on them all however is that they didn't even make the National Finals, with Okafor's Duke beating Frank Kaminsky's Wisconsin for the national title. Still, everything Towns showed during the season was enough to make him overtake Okafor as the new consensus Number 1.

    Either way the Lakers really can't go wrong, Skilled and strong big men are still the most valuable commodity in the NBA, even with the emergence of the elite athlete guard in the L (Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, John Wall, etc etc...). It is still much tougher to find a good big man than a good guard, and LA simply will not pass up on either of the Top 2.

    But let us suppose LA will go the route of Golden State and Atlanta and opt to play fast instead of playing big. Mudiay and Russell are very good prospects who are tall guards, both in the 6-foot-5 and 200-pounds range, able to play the point, both with incredible athleticism and out and out speed. Mudiay is being project as Westbrook 2.0, while Russell might become a one-man Splash Bros (maybe, maybe...) with his ability to knock down jumpshots with a quick trigger. Either of these guys could make the Lakers play the fast modern game.

    Kupchak however will likely play it safe and draft either of the two bigs.

    That brings us to how drafting Okafor or Towns impacts their move for the younger Gasol. Gasol is already a battle-tested all star who has had five straight playoffs with Memphis. However, this last playoff exit of the Grizzlies might make it easier for him to leave. Still, what will the Lakers do with Gasol and either of the two incoming rookie bigs? Certainly having two players with quality size makes the game a little easier, but then again it could turn into a position-and-minutes mess that will once again lead to bad team chemistry.

    If the Lakers do get Gasol that will make him the starter, alongside the recovering Julius Randle. Gasol is used to having Zach Randolph, a strong ...
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  3. Call It A Career, Tim. We'll Miss You.

    Tim Duncan hugged fellow All Star Chris Paul after one of the greatest Game 7's in NBA history. They exchanged a few words as they embraced, showing respect. Paul had just hit the game-winner in an epic 111-109 thriller that will go down in basketball lore as one of the best-played winner-or-go-home games ever.

    Give Paul credit. This may go down in NBA history as the "CP3 Game", or the "Chris Paul Channels Willis Reed Game". Paul, easily the best pure pointguard in the NBA if not the world left the game around the middle of the payoff fourth quarter. Turns out he had injured his hamstring, and he headed off to the dugout to get treatment. He would return a couple minuts later with his Los Angeles Clippers only down one against the defending champion San Antonio Spurs.

    It turned into a meat grinder from that point on. Paul, Jamal Crawford, JJ Redick, Matt Barnes, Blake Griffin would exchange baskets with Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Duncan.

    In the last three plays of this series, it became Duncan-versus-Paul.

    Duncan fouled Paul with just under 13 seconds left. Paul made both freethrows to give his Clippers a 109-107 edge.

    Spurs head coach Greg Popovich calls timeout with only eight seconds to go. They try to run a play for Duncan. He gets fouled by Redick.

    Duncan, just an average freethrow shooter, sometimes below-average, throughout his career, now has to make two freethrows to keep his Spurs alive. He swished them both to knot the count at 109-all.

    It is now Doc Rivers who sues for time. The Clippers get the ball to Paul, who goes right and then takes an awkward-looking fadeaway that somehow banks off the glass and finds the bottom of the net. That would be the final score, 111-109.

    Paul advances into the conference semifinals, where they are now 1-0 against the Houston Rockets.

    Duncan, for what... the sixth time in his career, will not get a back-to-back title.

    Both men each scored 27 points for their respective sides in this game. Paul did it with an iffy hamstring. Duncan did it with one good leg on his 39-year-old body, and he grabbed 11 rebounds while he was at it.

    Paul just turned 30 and has the rest of these playoffs and many more to look forward to.

    Our attention now must rest on Duncan. Duncan, maybe as early as four or five years ago, had a better than even chance of blocking what became Paul's game-winner. But he's put on a lot of miles on those legs. He's put in 18 years in the NBA, all of them with the Black and Silver. That's over 1,500 career games.

    I think it is time to call it a career.

    Sure, maybe a first-round exit isn't the best way to go for a guy like Duncan. But he's already won five NBA championships. In fact the Spurs didn't start winning titles in the NBA until he arrived. He's a two-time MVP. He's been named to the All-NBA First Team 15 times.

    Popovich said in the post-game interview, “I continue to be amazed by Tim Duncan. He was our most consistent player in the playoffs, at 39. He needed a little more help and I feel badly he didn’t get it. He just does it quietly and that’s why we feel badly when we don’t get it done for him.” That's on the record.

    Sure, Pop will likely say Duncan and Ginobili and he and Tony Parker will likely return for one more go at it next season.

    But for cryin' out loud, even if he could, even if his body cooperated 100%, even if he really wants to, why on earth would we let him?

    A lot of great players don't retire when they still have a lot going for them. A lot of guys think they can still get it done, a year or two or more after they should have called it quits for real.

    Remember Michael Jordan in a Wizards uniform? Remember him making the All Star game and promptly muffing a one-hand dunk he could make in his sleep in his last stint with the Bulls? Or how about Magic Johnson some 30 pounds over his ideal playing weight, HIV-stricken, and mounting a woeful comeback? Remember him getting his rear end whupped by the Bulls in the regular season?

    Duncan was in arguably the greatest game 7 I've seen in maybe the last five years. He lost. But to me, that's fine. He went down fighting. He congratulated the winners with the class he's always shown throughout his career. If that doesn't make for a hell of a last scene in the movie of his NBA life I don't know what will.

    Yes, he may have one, maybe two more seasons of continued all star-level production, but that is more of a gamble than anything else. I don't want to see him getting beaten by regular guys on regular plays. I don't want to hold my beating heart in my hands if he should even take a tumble and not be able to get up right away. I don't, most of all, want to see him in street clothes over ...
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  4. Size, Speed II

    (Continued from previous)

    In the NBA it is a totally different paradigm. It is now speed more than size that matters.

    Across six divisions in the two conferences, all but one of the division leaders are playing more up-tempo than the slow, pound-the-post style.

    Atlanta and Golden State, the two best teams in the current NBA season, are getting it done with good old fashioned run and gun basketball.

    Step Curry and Klay Thompson anchor the most high-octane offense in the league for Coach Steven Kerr. Thompson even had a 52-point (or was it 53...?) outburst against Sacramento. Thompson scored a league record 37 points in the third quarter alone, going a perfect 13-13 from the field in that period. His Warriors shredded the Kings in this game.

    Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver have been the run and gun duo for the Hawks, the first team to win 50 games this season. Korver put on a show during his first All Star game as an East All Star, scoring 21 points in 16 minutes, although it was Golden State's Splash Bros who topped the All Star three-point shootout. Atlanta's doing ok for a team that does not even have a star big man, using Paul Millsap and Al Horford as their frontline. Both men are probably 6-foot-9 in their sneakers, but they are very active and crash the boards and collapse into the lane on defense with speed and alacrity.

    Speaking of high-octane, of late it has been Russell Westbrook that has been getting a lot of press for his play. In his latest effort, Westbrook scored 30 points, pulled in 11 rebounds, and dished 17 assists in a 108-104 win against the Toronto Raptors, the Atlantic Division leaders. That capped a three-game tear for the Oklahoma superstar that saw him get 49 points, 15 rebounds, and 10 assists in a win against Philadelphia, and 40 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists in a loss to the Bulls. He's had five triple doubles in their last six games, earning him NBA player of the week honors over the last week. By the way, he's done this with Kevin Durant in sick bay. The Thunder were once in a deep hole at the start of the season. They are now at 35 wins and counting.

    John Wall of the Wizards are a far second to the Hawks in their division, but it is amazing that Wall's speed and invention of dribbling techniques on the fly in actual games is enough to make the Wizards second place with 36 wins thus far.

    Damian Lillard and Lamarcus Aldridge are also using speed and athleticism to keep the Portland Trailblazers the top team in the Northwest Division with 41 wins thus far. Both of them bring so much motor to their respective positions they're making Portland a veritable highway.

    Forget Lebron James and Kyrie Irving over at Cleveland. Everyone knows James is the king of the NBA mutants, an actual physical freak who runs like a Ferrari but is built like a Hummer, while Irving has learned to play at "less than 100 miles an hour".

    Memphis is the only division leader still playing more deliberate basketball. But then again they have strong, bulky frontline players in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. These guys can actually afford to play slow ball, and lead the Southwest with 45 wins.

    Teams that play slow when they shouldn't are languishing in the cellar. Who would have thought the Lakers and the Knicks, featuring superstar players that everybody over the last decade has said are the two most difficult to defend in the NBA, would be at the bottoms of their respective divisions? Certainly not Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony.

    Of course the presence of all these chain lightning guards is only half the story. There is also a dearth of superstar big men in the league. Now please don't go pointing to Demarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. Or even to Marc and Pau Gasol. As good as those guys are as big men, they are certainly far removed from say Shaquille O'Neal, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, even David Robinson. Has anyone ever seen Cousins or Davis pivoting, hop-skipping, pivoting like Olajuwon? Or duplicate Jabbar's skyhook and fluid up-under? Or run the floor like the Admiral? Forget about the sheer brute force and agility of O'Neal.

    Granted Davis's Pelicans aren't that bad at 35 wins, but in the elite Southwest Division 35 wins means you're at the bottom of the division. Sacramento has always been awful, except for the Chris Webber-Vlade Divac-Peja Stojacovic years, so it is hard to fault the woeful 21 wins of the Kings on Cousins. Both men also came off a gold medal stint with USA Basketball in the last FIBA World Championships.

    In today's NBA elite speed and athleticism are the critical assets, not so much sheer height and bulk. I would not be surprised if the NBA Finals features Golden State versus Cleveland.

    I'll take Golden State in five games, six if at least one game ...
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  5. Size, Speed

    It is a truism in the game of basketball that height is might. After all, the taller the player, the taller the team, the easier (supposedly) to put that ball through a hoop 10 feet above the floor. That is why getting that good big man has always been the holy grail of basketball. Having that big man in the middle just makes the game a lot easier for the team.

    In the PBA, the supposed "joke" that is the Kia Carnival of boxing champion/congressman/entertainer Manny Pacquiao have quadrupled their wins from their inaugural conference last year, at 4-5 as of the All Star break. They did this by simply having the biggest import in the ongoing Commissioner's Cup, 7-foot-3, 350-pound Peter John Ramos of Puerto Rico. Ramos leads the league in scoring and rebounding, including a few 20-rebound games and a dominating outing with 36 points and 33 rebounds. Don't look for any other explanation for Kia's success thus far - Ramos is it.

    Of course it is not just sheer size. To be fair, Ramos knows how to play the game. But if he was "only" say 6-foot-9 and 250 pounds and playing the way he does I'm pretty sure he would not be this dominant, and Kia might still be a 1-win-per-conference team. He knows how to maximize his height and bulk by just hanging around the basket and on either box. He's one of those "soft hands" types who can catch even difficult passes. He knows how to turn just so to be in scoring position. And he knows how to pass to cutters and backdoor guys sneaking around along the baseline.

    Barako Bull, another customarily also-ran team, has the second biggest import in the conference in 7-foot-1 Solomon Alabi. Alabi ranks second to Ramos in scoring and rebounding, and leads the league in blocks. His Barako Bull team is at an even 4-4. He's not quite as huge and not quite as skilled as Ramos, but his numbers are equally solid.

    Both of these giants have rendered the erstwhile premiere big man of the PBA rather smallish, San Miguel Beer's 6-foot-10 Junemar Fajardo, the reigning MVP. Fajardo has found himself really looking small compared to the two mastodon imports. Suddenly it isn't that easy for him to just pluck offensive rebounds off the tops of the heads of local opposing power forwards and centers and putting the ball back into the hoop. His Beermen are at the bottom of the standings at 2-6, quite a fall from just having won the All Filipino Conference a couple months back.

    As other writers have observed, this cannot be explained away merely as a long championship hangover. Fajardo has had to labor with an underwhelming import to start the Commissioner's Cup, and now a small import in 6-foot-5 Arizona Reid. Reid is supposed to be San Miguel's import for the Governors Cup, where the height limit for reinforcements is only 6-foot-5. It doesn't help that Coach Leo Austria likes to play deliberate and go to Fajardo in the low post, a fact he harped on when they barely won the All Filipino against the all-motor Alaska Aces. "We play deliberate ball. Alaska likes to play up-tempo," he once explained in the middle of their championship series.

    That worked well enough when Fajardo had the size advantage. That simply is not the case now. Even against imports his size, Fajardo has struggled. Michael Dunigan is a typical 6-foot-9 import with hops and strength, and he's got 7-foot Greg Slaughter beside him. Against Slaughter and 6-foot-9 Japheth Aguilar in the All Filipino, Fajardo was still the dominant one, using his bulk, strength, and agility. Against Dunigan, it is not that easy, because Dunigan can match his strength and agility, basically making Slaughter an extra import. Truth be told though, Barangay Ginebra is just in the middle of the pack at 4-3, but we'll discuss that next time.

    Speaking of the Aces, Alaska is also precariously in danger of being eliminated at 2-5. Alaska also had similar problems to San Miguel Beer, in that their import at the beginning of the conference was all of 6-foot-6. That guy has since been replaced by Damion James, who in actuality is only slightly bigger at maybe 6-foot-8 in his sneakers. Granted James is also a much better player, but he is still a smallish import in a big import conference. Alabi just had his way with James in Alaska's loss to Barako about a week before the All Star break. Alabi in fact scored the winning basket by simply grabbing the ball clear off James's head and putting it back for that win.

    Choice of import of course is oversimplifying things for the Aces. They had to deal with various injuries to four of their five best players. Center Sonny Thoss, forwards Calvin Abueva and Vic Manuel, and guard JV Casio all missed games due to injuries. There was one game that all four were unable to play and were in civvies sitting behind the bench. Still, one cannot help but wonder if a bigger, better import could not have been enough to at least ...
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